Let’s get one thing clear; ALL of us can make a meal in well under 30 minutes. Boiling water, pasta, reheat sauce, place in bowl, done (as another chef quips). But Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, the foodie’s equivalent of a concept album, requires a little more creativity than that. And an extra arm. True the majority of the time you are frantically scrabbling at the skin of an onion wondering why the bugger won’t peel, when if you took your time, you would probably do it quicker. This does bring down my overall opinion of the book, as I feel like I’m in a race against time to crank out the goods (even timing my first meal to see how long it really takes). But what you will find is an abundance of fresh ingredients that will fill your kitchen which such amazing smells you can almost forgive him his god-like speed at peeling an onion.
Having picked at different menus since receiving the book last Christmas, I decided one night to cook an entire meal for my family. Having enjoyed numerous holidays in Portugal (as well as a few Nandos) I thought piri piri chicken thighs, crushed potatoes with feta, a green salad and a dessert of custard tarts sounded like a good one to go for. Plus I had seen him cook it on the television version of his book, so had a rough idea of how it would go.
Beginning the chicken was fairly simple, slashing the meat to allow the sauce to penetrate better, and crisping up the skin in a grill pan beforehand. Whilst it’s cooking, getting on with tarts is simple too. But once they go in the oven it all starts to get a bit hectic. You have the potatoes to wash, make the custard filling for the tarts, keeping an eye on the chicken and the sauce to blend. All in an 8 minute time frame. What sounds relatively easy quickly descends into a blind panic when making the sauce. How many tablespoons of vinegar? Oh no a lemon pip fell in the blender! Why don’t I have long enough nails to peel the garlic! Dammit I’ve picked the bluntest knife in the drawer to chop the chilli! Couple this with dashing round the kitchen to the tune of the timer beeping furiously began to unravel me slightly. And then, when the tarts are made, you’re ho-humming waiting for everything to cook. What you shouldn’t do at this point is make up the potatoes, because they will sit on the table rapidly cooling so that when the chicken FINALLY cooks (which is longer than 30 minutes let me assure you) it’s more like potato salad than hot dressed potatoes. It’s also worth noting that after the initial stir for the caramel topping for the tarts, you shouldn’t continue stirring as the recipe implies, as this means it won’t turn to caramel, more like runny honey. Still, it tasted lovely.
Of course, the finished meal did make a wonderful impression on the family, and all the rushing and blending and panicking felt slightly worth it…when they finally arrived home 30 minutes after I had finished. Perhaps I should stick to quality over speed in the future; then my meal may actually be ready on time.